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Portland, Oregon

From the plane, I could see that long chain of solitary spires, an uneven line of volcanos which trace the route of an active fault line. The Three Sisters, then smaller cones, the heavenly Willamette Valley, and finally, Mount Hood and St. Helens and Rainier, shrouded by distance.

Even at nine at night, the green-green of Cascadia was visible through the dark, and those solitary massifs were as visible as day. Our plane flew above the Columbia River, and the air was clear so that I could see fires being lit on the sandy shores of islands, canoes and sailboats at bay, and men still casting in the shallows. Cascadia is an alternate name given to the Pacific Northwest - western Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska's southern coasts. A small number of Americans and Canadians use this name to express their interest in an alternative future for the Northwest.

It is said that if Quebec were to secede, British Columbia would no longer have a tie - a need - to be a part of Canada. Many British Columbians, in fact, feel closer in culture to Seattle and Portland than they do to their own country. Separatist movements exist on both sides of the border, with one goal in mind: the Independent Country of Cascadia.

Although now this may all seem bizarre, it is telling of the strong feelings of the Pacific Northwest - a sense of geographical and cultural uniqueness. This attitude compels many more ordinary folks than the 'Cascadia Separatists'.

This regional pride can be wonderful and rich, or dark and xenophobic. All this may seem ironic in Portland - the city that represents the end of Lewis and Clark's scientific expedition and its symbol of union in North America. Portland is all ironies; it is a wildly progressive city, but the ironic success of Portland's progressive heart is how it resembles a more traditional American city.

The city of Portland is of striking architecture. It is like how you would imagine San Francisco from the Bay Bridge, only when you enter Portland, the streets are clean, the facades ornate, the awned cafes are bustling, and the marble fronts are brilliant.

Some complain about Portland's urban planning. But the effort to preserve what is old, and good, about the Pacific Northwest, while creating a kind of modern community, is working. And most of the rest of the country is still outsourcing their town centers to Walmart and losing themselves in sprawl.

ArrowEnglish pub, Northeast Portland. Travel photography by Erik Gauger




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